Thursday, July 19, 2007


Finally my company has been officially created. After many months, I officially incorporated US Connection at the Chamber of Commerce in Bordeaux. The webpage is also online at

I'll try to keep you informed as to the progress that I make.

(ps: yes, this post is primarily for google/yahoo search results...most of my two readers know this stuff already!!!)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Traffic Control à la française

So...The Rocade, which is the ring road around the city of Bordeaux got its speed limit reduced from 110kph (~68mph) to 90kph (55.8) yesterday. Of course, since this is a big change, you think that all the media outlets would be talking about it, would be warning drivers...maybe even leading up to the change they would have told us. Naw. I had to hear it from Julie who heard it from her taxi driver on the way home from the airport last night...

Ok, maybe it's just that I don't pay attention to the news (I don't either, I don't watch TV, read French newspapers, frequent French web sites, etc.). So this morning I took it upon myself to check out the local media...It took me 45 minutes to find an article in the Sud-Ouest...Bordeaux's home-town paper. I also found a quick 2 line article on the website of the local TV station (yeah, there's one...ok, there's actually 2, but one is like public access TV).

Anyway, the given reasons for the reduction of the speed limit are less pollution, ok, that's fine, I agree that you're blowing out less noxious chemicals at 55 than at nearly 70, and more fluidity of the traffic. Hmmm. Lower speed means that the traffic will move better. I'm not a traffic engineer, but this seems odd to say the least. How can making slowing people down result in speeding them up? Yes, the speed limit for trucks is 80kph, which means that there tends to be holdups when two trucks try to pass each other...but I still don't see how reducing the speed by 20kph is going to make me get where I'm going faster. I may even agree to nighttime/daytime speed limits. At night, when there are 3 cars in your rearview and one in front of you, doing 55mph is really tedious...I can understand for safety reasons if they wanted the daytime limit to be different...but this strikes me as typical political BS.

My theory is like this: The politicians in Bordeaux want to build a bypass highway that cuts through the Medoc region so all the truck traffic (and vacationers too) can go around the city on their way to Spain/Portugal or from Spain/Portugal. There was a big grassroots movement against this (I think it needs to be done...yeah, I don't want to destroy ancient vineyards either, but something's gotta be done...We don't live in 1952 anymore and the Rocade gets really really backed up during rush hour and most of the day) and it's been "put on hold." I think that the prefect, who's kinda like the governor of the region...except frequently he's (invariably "he") never lived in the region before his posting...He went to ENA, the famous French finishing school, he's buddies with the president or the PM and he gets posted to province for a couple of years before getting a better post in a better city, figured fine you bumpkins, you don't want progress, well now you're really in trouble because I'm going make it impossible to move around the city in any timely manner.

But that's the way it is in France...You are never right. The politicians know what's best for you so shut you're damn mouth and take it. I've tried to explain the concept of a "libertarian" to the French...It's like talking to a wall, really.

Anyway, you gotta figure at least they'll give everyone a breaking-in period for the new speed limit where anyone travelling less than 110kph will get a warning, but not a ticket. The CRS (the French riot police, who do traffic control when there are no riots) gave out a ticket for 91kph at 10am yesterday (4 hours after the change went into affect). Come on, it's 90 euros for the government coffers that we're talking about, we can't pass that up. Vive la France mes amis!

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

You Only Vote Twice

Ok, so the highly disputed runoff for president nears us, with the two candidates going into seclusion until the end (one of many French electoral rules, which states that there is to be no campaigning after Friday evening before the Sunday elections).

O.F.F. (our favorite fascist) Sarkozy looks to be building a insurmountable lead, but the French are historically difficult to judge, so Sunday could bring a big mistake surprise for France. Sarko has fascist tendencies, sure...he wants to more police control, he speaks in slightly veiled racist terms, he's a nationalist; this is something that I've been trying to come to terms with, being that I'd much prefer him to be the president. And then last night, I was driving back from downtown Bordeaux and got cut off three times by cars blowing stop signs, had to stop at least three times to let jaywalkers get across and nearly ran over an idiot 14-year-old on a moped who was passing me in the bike lane (on the right, of course). Sarkozy is a law-and-order guy...there's already 1000s of speed cameras everywhere, which are his legacy. There are things in the US that we take for granted, due process for traffic violations, for example, that just don't exist here. The systems are not the same, but I do not feel that Sarkozy is the next Hitler, and he sure as hell isn't the next Bush (of course comparing him to the two in the same sentence here is normal)...anyone with half a brain and without a political agenda will quickly realize that the heavy-handed government control of the economy that is wielded in France and will continue under Sarko isn't really Bush's thing.

Selective immigration and cracking down on the "scum" (racaille in french: also translated at ne'er-do-wells by some) are normal actions for me. Of course there are racial connotations to all of this, but having a society where everyone is civil is not a police state. And condoning immigrants who will bring something to the country, other than population, is a cause that I believe in. For all of the criticisms raised about the H-visa program in the states, it's hard to argue that it's been bad for the country as a diversifies the US, it helps our relationships with other nations and it helps the economy. It also makes the brain-drain something that the US benefits from...Highly educated foreigners coming to the US is a good thing and it would be a good thing for France as well.

Ségolène knows she's probably going to lose and has desperately tried to say and do everything possible to insult and demean Sarkozy. It hasn't worked. And Bayrou, the wimp or "couilles mou" as certain French have started calling him, is ridiculous...Trying to play both sides...Someone should tell him about trying to burn the candle at both ends...Good luck with your niche party in the future, buddy.

I know very few people who are voting for Segolene out of conviction...If she wins it means simply that Sarkozy lost...She has no plan...No policy, nothing. She is going to govern with her "Social Partners" (unions basically, but also non-unionized employees in companies, NGOs, Non-profit associations, whomever...) and by referendum. As Julie said, she isn't getting elected President, she's getting elected "Mediator of France."

I'm all for labor's involvement in the process. I think that capitalists have one thing in mind and they don't give a crap about anything but their wallets. There's no reason that you can't have a forward-looking, liberal (traditional sense), and just society. Giving the still-communist unions, who represent 9% (maximum) of the workforce, a voice that is non-representative of their actual influence is as bad as giving the CEOs of the top 50 companies is France that same voice. The unions don't speak for me, or for anyone but themselves. Julie's cousin by marriage works in a semi-unionized environment and has been harassed endlessly to join the union. She doesn't want to, but they won't give up even to the point of subtly threatening her position in the company, etc. The unions are dying here because of the way that French labor relations work (it's a whole another article, but basically you don't have to be unionized to have the exact same rights as the unions. Therefore the people, logically, don't join unions and pay the dues, but still have all the benefits they would have as a unionized employed).

Anyway: All of this is basically to say that I think that Sarokzy offers the best opportunity for France to get out of this malaise that it's found itself in. A vote for Ségolène is a vote for the status quo...and every independent group out there that ranks countries says that the status quo is not what France needs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The French Election

Ok, here's the deal. Whatever you read (watch, hear) in the US media about the upcoming election is probably greatly exaggerated. LePen will not win. LePen will most likely not go through to the runoff again. The Communist/Green/far-Left bloc won't get more than 20% or so, but it may be enough to put Bayrou through against Sarkozy, but Bayrou, not LePen.

Here's the most common misperception about the previous election: LePen was sent through because so many people liked him that he was voted through and this means that the entire country is xenophobic racists (ok, that may be true...but...). LePen got something like 17% of the popular vote in the first round...and in the second round...18% (he got 720,000 more votes in the 2nd round out of nearly 32 million voters). That means that even in a 1-on-1 runoff with Jack "You can't charge me with a crime while I'm in office" Chirac, he didn't get anymore (significant) votes. Expect LePen to get between 16-20% this election cycle too. France has problems and a lot of the former communists party supporters have switched to the Front National because they don't feel that the Communist party was doing anything to help their plight. LePen is not at all extreme right economically; it's all social and the terroir-is-life bunch is afraid of all the cheap food and products coming from other countries. LePen promises to stop this.

In the last election, LePen went through because the Left in France is not at all organized (and still isn't). In polls, the combined left represents about 35-45% of the population. But you have 3% who vote communist, 5% who vote green, 4% who vote moderate communist, 4% who vote for the other moderate communists and then 16-20% who vote for the Partie Socialiste. What happened in 2002 is everyone voted with their "heart" in the first round. The "Left" got 49% of the votes, but Jospin only got 16.18% to LePen's 16.68% (this table is arranged in left-to-right descending order). LePen benefited from this type of voting with your heart and/or protest voting - without naming names, I know people who vote FN in the first round, but would be horrified to see LePen as the president. However, there is a fairly strong cadre of extreme-righters who will always vote for the FN. The Socialistes and the UMP (majority rightest party) don't draw the same sort of devotion. What this means, to me, is that even if LePen went through last time and even if he has a fairly strong say in parliament, he's not going to win the election. Sorry Christopher Hitchens, the undecided 40% aren't going to vote LePen.

My call: The runoff is going to place either Sarkozy against Royal or Bayrou. Sarko vs Royal = Sarko Président. Sarko vs Bayrou = Bayrou. If its Bayrou v Royal = Bayrou. If LePen does go through, which isn't impossible, his opponent will win in the second round. In any case, I would hate to see Ségolène as the president. She offers absolutely nothing to the French. It's steady as she goes, but with everyone holding Le Tricolore and singing La Marseillaise. Sorry folks, the woman who thinks that the US is worse than Iran and the Taliban is in power would be a really bad thing for this country that desperately needs to change.

Although Sarko-Fasco (fascist shortened) scares me a bit, I prefer his [relatively] liberal market views. Bayrou would probably be ok, but as the French say, he's a bit mou (soft, undecided, wishy-washy) and I don't know that he's got the couilles to make a difference. Royal would just be a 5-year plague who would make the country a worst place to live. Of course if LePen wins, I'm moving back to the States (and you can quote me on that), but I truly believe that this is an empty threat.

(thanks to Les Fakes de Lobo for the photochops)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

House Update

Ok, consider yourselves lucky! I just took a few pictures and then realized that I hadn't the slightest idea where the USB connector was...lo-and-behold, it was where it was supposed to be! So you get pictures too!

Anyway, it's been a while, and for that I'm sorry. I've had a house to try to deal with, though. Since our move was programmed for last Saturday, the pressure really mounted last week to try to get everything done...Finish the tiling, do the joints, sand the wood upstairs, put down three coats of varnish, try to get all the drywall spackled and sanded...ugh. Needless to say, I didn't leave the house before 9:30pm last week, and didn't work less than 13 hours a day. We got as much as possible done before the big move. Saturday was moving day!

I want to take one minute out of my blog to thank Yohann who was with us from 9am until 9pm and did not stop. I'd like to say that I would be as involved in someone else's move, but I doubt it. It was really helpful because he's about 6'4" and quite strong.

Anyway, the move went as well as a move can go. Stressful, annoying, but nothing (as far as I know) broke and we got all of the big stuff out of the apartment on Saturday...Sunday was the cleanup day, and man does that suck. Anyway, we had help on sunday too so that went by without incident and we'll be getting our security deposit back in its entirety (which is good because its already earmarked).

Anyway, Julie took Monday off, but left for Montreal on Tuesday, so I've been trying to get stuff done this week. It's a lot more difficult to work when you've got stuff all around you. But that's the way it is. My internet came back on Weds morning, which was good. I was without internet for about 70 hours total, but it felt like 4 weeks...I think I'm going to get a Blackberry as my next phone so I never have to worry about this again...

Anyway, here's some pictures. The first one is the floor in my office just after I had finished the final coat of oil (for those keeping score at home, I used a "hard base" (I don't know the name in english, that's the literal translation from French) followed by two coats of non-color oil).

The bedroom - I like the contrast of the shopvac and spackle mix surrounding the laundry.

The closet...I just put up those bars today!

The kitchen (it looks better arranged than it really is. That Ikea (ee-KAY-uh) thing is about 4 inches from the wall because I have plumbing behind it that needs to be moved. One of the feet on the sink broken when I was trying to install the Ikea thing, and to get to the bathroom you have to go behind the Ikea thing

And the living room. Notice the nice touch of the stack of heaters in the middle of the floor.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The House: Days Dwindling

Sorry folks for not posting earlier; as some of you can imagine giving ourselves 3 weeks to basically redo the interior of the house turns out to be a very stressful thing to do to ourselves!!

Anyway, the upstairs is kinda livable. We have to do something about the wall that is not insulated at all (and by not insulated I mean it has a piece of plywood that separates the cars, people and cold from our bedroom). Other than this we finished the flooring upstairs. My father-in-law showed me how to do it and we did my office together. Then I finished during the week (actually I finished today, but it was just a few tinny bits). I think it's pretty damn well done for an rookie and I'm quite proud of it. We've got a throw up a first coat of paint and we should be able to survive for a few weeks.

Thursday, Julie's cousin got lassoed into helping me do the drywall (poor kid, he's on vacation from med school and just happened to stop by the house to see it...he must regret that move. Oh well, it helped him burn off his spring-break hangover). We got most of it done, and Jean-Christophe and I finished it up this morning before starting on the tiling! Ugh, I'm not sure what's harder, wood flooring or tiling. They both have their negatives. I think that flooring is harder to do well, but tiles are painful. You spend the whole day on your knees, trying not to displace the freshly placed tiles, while reaching waaaaaay over to the back to try to clean up the previous row. At least we bought the glue (or whatever the sticky stuff is called in english) that is already costs more, but man it's so much easier that having to constantly mix up the powder.

Not sure if this post makes any's quarter-to-one in the morning here. I haven't worked for less than 10 hours this week, yesterday was a marathon 13.5 hour work session. Today was an easy 10 hour day. I've got to hit the hay, but I just wanted to get a few pics up here for y'all.

We also scraped a wall clean so that we can have a wall in stone. This is a ton of work and I was pulling stones out of everywhere for 2 or 3 days.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The House - Day Something-or-Other

As promised earlier, I am posting a little update on the house. So, I went on Wednesday to get some stuff done. Julie took Thurs and Friday off from work. Thursday, I had rented a truck at the place where we bought the tile to transport the 600kg (~1400 lbs) of tile to our house. I figured since I was there, I would also buy some sheetrock. So I got there at 9:15, deal with the papers, get the tile loaded and we try to load some sheetrock...hmmm, not enough room. So the guy says, 'I tell ya what, I'll charge you only 1.5 hours for the entire morning and you come back (it's about 1/2 hour one-way from our new house) and get the sheetrock.' Ok. So I drive over to the house and unload with Julie 600kgs of tile. Run back to the store. Instead of getting 10 sheets of sheetrock I figure I should get 20...I'll need them and I've got the truck...why not. Then I think, we've got 400 sq. feet of wood flooring at my in law's house..which is right next to the store where I bought the drywall...ugh. Ok, I swing by there and get the 12 packs of wood. Run back. Julie and I unload the sheetrock (each sheet is 85 lbs) and the wood!

The afternoon we continued putting sheetrock on the ceiling...if you've never done this (I had never done it on the ceiling), it's incredibly tiring for your arms (and back, and's just tiring overall).

Friday we continued with the sheetrock and basically got it finished except for 3 small pieces that Julie's cousin Camille and I finished today.

There's so much work left to do and basically two weeks before we move. The next 14 days are going to be insanely busy. Oh well. There's things that have to be done...the flooring upstairs, the tile downstairs, the walls need to be drywalled...Not a lot of choice.

Oh yeah, and our new windows got installed on Thursday! What a difference double-plated brand new windows make!

I'll put a couple of pictures up here. The first one is Camille feeling the surge of power that only a large tool can give you.

More posts coming!

I'll try to get some new posts up here soon - maybe tonight.

We saw Damien Rice on Weds night...really good show, a little short (he played for 1h40m), but we were really close so I've got some nice pictures and if I can make Youtube work, I'll upload a couple of videos.

We've also been working hard on our house...we have put in between 10 and 12 hours each day...basically we eat and sleep at the apartment and work on the house the rest of the time (with out exaggeration).

Here's a picture of me dry-walling the one of the bedrooms to hold you over!